Does Cycling Help My Running? With a Bonus "Geeks-Only" Research Appendix

In general, training should be sport-specific, but there are surprising reasons to do other sports anyway.

Does Cycling Help My Running? With a Bonus "Geeks-Only" Research Appendix

Our friend Gordo Byrn has a smart new post up about why running is so hard, and whether you can lessen the burden of becoming a better runner by training more as a cyclist.

Here is a key opening section of his post, where he lays out the issues, but you should go read the whole thing:

Gordo rightly argues that cycling (mostly) doesn't have those problems, making it a way to get metabolic benefits without running's risks and difficulties.

The trouble is, as one of his co-authors says, training benefits tend to be sport-specific. Being a better cycling does not make you a better runner; being a better swimmer does not make you a better cyclist. If you want to be a better runner, train at running. If you want to be a better triathlete, combining running, swimming, and cycling, well ... get a better coach.

But even if training should be sport-specific, there are some large caveats:

  1. If by cross-training you reduce your likelihood of injury, especially as a new runner, then that is a win. Training/detraining/training cycles are brutal, especially with age, and most are caused by injuries, which can feed on themselves.
  2. Building a better base level of fitness, however accomplished, is useful. Granted, you won't become a competitive cyclist by running more, but you will become a fitter, healthier, and less inflamed person. As Howard likes to say, what are you optimizing for?

So, to respond to Gordo, cycling training does help your running, at least at the margin, even if it won't make you a competitive runner. It will, however, build your base fitness, let you run more without injury, and give you a great deal of pleasure as the wind whooshes past you.

Appendix for the Geeks: Hey, What Does the Research Say?

Research suggests that cycling training can have a positive impact on running performance, with some studies showing that it can maintain aerobic performance in female distance runners (White, 2003) and improve aerobic capacity and run performance in moderately fit runners (Mutton, 1993). However, the transfer of training effects between cycling and running is not always straightforward, with some studies indicating that the effects are minimal (Tanaka, 1994) and that prior cycling can negatively impact running ability in elite triathletes (Walsh, 2019). The specific effects of cycling on running performance may depend on factors such as training intensity and duration (Stangier, 2016).


  • Bini, Rodrigo Rico, Tiago Canal Jacques, J. Hunter, and P. Figueiredo. "Biomechanical and physiological implications to running after cycling and strategies to improve cycling to running transition: A systematic review." Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2022. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2022.07.006.
  • Millet, G., R. Candau, B. Barbier, T. Busso, J. Rouillon, and J. Chatard. "Modelling the transfers of training effects on performance in elite triathletes." International Journal of Sports Medicine, 2002. doi: 10.1055/S-2002-19276.
  • Mutton, D. L., S. Loy, D. M. Rogers, G. Holland, W. Vincent, and M. Heng. "Effect of run vs combined cycle/run training on VO2max and running performance." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 1993. doi: 10.1249/00005768-199312000-00013.
  • Stangier, Carolin, T. Abel, Clemens Hesse, Stephanie Claßen, Julia Mierau, W. Hollmann, and H. Strüder. "Effects of Cycling vs. Running Training on Endurance Performance in Preparation for Inline Speed Skating." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2016. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001247.
  • Stewart, A. D., and J. Hannan. "Total and regional bone density in male runners, cyclists, and controls." Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2000. doi: 10.1097/00005768-200008000-00003.
  • Tanaka, Hirofumi. "Effects of cross-training. Transfer of training effects on VO2max between cycling, running and swimming." Sports Medicine, 1994.
  • Walsh, J. "The Rise of Elite Short-Course Triathlon Re-Emphasises the Necessity to Transition Efficiently from Cycling to Running." Sports, 2019. doi: 10.3390/sports7050099.
  • White, Lesley J., R. Dressendorfer, S. Muller, and M. Ferguson. "Effectiveness of Cycle Cross‐Training Between Competitive Seasons in Female Distance Runners." Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2003. doi: 10.1519/1533-4287(2003)017<0319:EOCCBC>2.0.CO;2.

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